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ONC Introduces Blue Button Plus, Pushes Initiative Forward

January 16, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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Get ready for Blue Button 2.0.

With the arrival of a new year, it’s clear from listening in on a recent National eHealth Collaborative’s (NeHC) webinar that the folks from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) Consumer eHealth team aren’t about to slow down when it comes to its Blue Button initiative.

In fact, the NeHC webinar,Liberating Data and Fostering Innovation to Engage Patients, confirmed just the opposite. The Blue Button brand, as members of the ONC led by Lygeia Ricciardi, Acting Director of the Office of Consumer eHealth, referred to it consistently throughout the webinar, is here to stay.

 During the webinar, members of the Consumer eHealth team announced the arrival of Blue Button Plus, which will aim to make consumers’ health data even more accessible through the implementation of interoperable standards that can push and pull structured EHR data between a third-party consumer health data application in an unstructured format.

The ONC is using a consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) format as a common language to automate the transmitting and receiving of this data. It has planning on releasing a draft implementation guide for third-party developers. The ONC also announced it has created a draft implementation guide that shows how to transmit and receive this data through the Direct format.  Not only will this pushing and pulling be done for EMR data, but the ONC says, it has developed guidance for non-EMR data, such as payer data, as well. 

The members of the ONC’s eHealth team said this was the next evolution of the Blue Button, which has for the most part has allowed consumers to view an American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) text file. Or as members of the ONC called it – “a receipt.” This moves Blue Button further beyond its place as an actual tool and more into a concept, as the members of ONC called it – “a brand.” The government mentioned working with providers, payers, vendors, and other interested stakeholders – both start-up and established, to get them implement a consumer friendly Blue Button.

Over the course of the webinar, members of the eHealth team mentioned the various ways the agency has promoted the Blue Button concept. This included developer challenges, such as the Blue Button Mash Up and the Healthcare Design initiative. The aim of both was to make the Blue Button concept more consumer friendly. The ONC’s Consumer eHealth talked of its efforts to crowd-source, by doing contests where they reached out to practitioners as well as consumer themselves.

During the webinar, ONC addressed the privacy and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) concerns, saying the implementation guide includes Office of Civil Rights (OCR) approved clarity on this issue.

While Ricciardi noted there has been increasing use of personal health records and money invested in consumer eHealth technology, the potential is even greater. The Blue Button brand, she said, allows the creation of an open, patient data ecosystem. Until that is a reality, expect ONC to keep marching forward with even greater zest.